July 20, 2007— There is no substitute for getting up close and personal—early—to learn each other's operations is the sentiment expressed by both the US and Australian airmen who came together for this year's Talisman Saber exercise. The interaction started with planning and directing contingency operations from Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and ended with field events in and around Australia.
The US Pacific Command-sponsored biennial exercise comprised some 20,000 US and 7,500 Australian military personnel and scores of ships and aircraft.
Royal Australian Air Force members worked over the course of a week in late May with USAF counterparts at the 613th Air and Space Operations Center, also known as the Maj. Richard Bong AOC, at Hickam to conduct strategy-to-task planning for potential Pacific Region missions. This was the "computer game" portion in which the airmen observed a common operating picture of all aircraft flying in the region and prepared air tasking orders to fulfill the Talisman Saber scenarios.
This type of interaction, where US and Australian airmen can compare and implement each other's operational methods is vital, per RAAF Air Vice Marshall Mark Binskin, Talisman Saber's Combined Forces Air Component Commander. "You really need to get together earlier—far earlier—and make sure that you're fully integrated," said Binskin at Hickam. He explained that he meant more than just doctrine, saying each must know how the other thinks and operates. He added, "You've got to know what you don't know about the coalition."
His deputy CFACC, US Air Force Col. Michael Boera, who is the 613th AOC commander, agreed, saying, "There's nothing that can replace face-to-face interaction."
Binskin noted that the Hickam AOC is much larger than one the RAAF uses, and he said although the technology used is similar, "it takes a while to sit down and work it all out."
US airman Maj. Kent Hurton has seen the AOC in Cambra, Australia, where he helped write the preparatory documentation for Talisman Saber. Hurton explained that some Australian airmen have been to air operations school at Hickam as exchange officers, making them familiar with USAF processes. Hurton declared there would be "very few hiccups in the processes” working with close ally Australia.
Boera said the AOC's work, whether it’s creating an air tasking order, air space control order, special instructions, or rules of engagement must be flawless. “We want to make sure that the plan we send forward is as clear and concise as possible—no questions, no ambiguities—so the airman in essence can put bombs on target on time and come home alive,” he said.
After Hickam, the action for Talisman Saber moved to Australia, where one of the first activities was culmination of a Joint Rapid Airfield Construction Demonstration that paved the way for arrival of USAF and RAAF C-17 airlifters. A 15th Airlift Wing C-17 from Hickam and one of the recently delivered RAAF C-17s tested the dirt airstrip constructed by Australian and US military personnel in less than four weeks at Bradshaw Field Training Area in Australia's northern territory.
Other USAF aircraft participating in the field exercise portion included KC-135 tankers from the Air National Guard's 168th Air Refueling Wing, Eielson AFB, Alaska, and 186th ARW, Key Field, Miss., and the active duty 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan. Kadena also supplied an E-3B AWACS. Some 37 airmen from the 613th AOC also deployed to Australia to augment the command and control function.
Talisman Saber also included legal coordination. Lt. Col. Albert Guarino, deputy Judge Advocate General for 13th Air Force at Hickam, served as senior JAG for Talisman Saber. He and his Australian JAG deputy worked within the AOC to help develop rules of engagement and targeting parameters. “Our underlying legal analysis was very complimentary,” said Guarino, adding that they tackled combined operations issues such as use of force and deployment of forces. “We came up with some good products that are bound to be useful for command,” he said, explaining that they reconciled different operating procedures to develop an “integrated product for command, and for planners to use in executing missions while still respecting our national perspectives on use of force.”
The entire exercise ended in early July. And, Boera declared it a "great success," adding that the integration of American and Australian airmen was “seamless.” He believes that working the Australian perspective "into our strategic and operational processes will reap tremendous benefits."
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